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Fraser River Indigenous salmon fishery closure to protect stocks

A closure has been put in place by both Indigenous leaders, DFO to protect fragile stocks
A view of the Sheep Creek Bridge over the Fraser River along Highway 20 west of Williams Lake. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Fraser River salmon fisheries in the Cariboo Chilcotin are closed to all recreational and Indigenous fishing to attempt to preserve salmon stocks.

Northern Shuswap Tribal Council (NSTC), Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG) and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) have posted closures at fishing spots and online.

The TNG posting asks people not to fish for Jas (Chinook or Spring salmon) in the Chezqox (Chilcotin/Chezacut River) above the Chilko/Chilcotin system to “protect the most vulnerable Jas populations as they return to their spawning grounds.”

It also asks for no fishing for Jas or Ts’eman (sockeye salmon) in the Chilcotin/Chilko mainstem until the scheduled opening of August 17 to 27, 2023.

Joe Alphonse, chair of the TNG and chief of Tl’etinqox, said he doesn’t have faith in DFO management of the salmon stocks and said TNG is basing their closure on their own knowledge and no input from DFO.

He said TNG wants to know where they are at with stocks before moving forward and they can lift the closure quickly if they see a strong return, while they see DFO as being encumbered by bureaucracy.

Alphonse said all of their salmon stocks are of great importance to their people and this is the reason TNG nations did not enter into agreements with Taseko Mines when they proposed putting New Prosperity Mine in the Taseko watershed.

“We don’t put a price on our traditional food supplies,” he said.

A post on the TNG Facebook page stated: “TNG is in the process of finalizing its own Tsilhqot’in Fishing Plan for 2023 that aims to provide fishing opportunity while at the same time protecting the fish that need it most this year.”

The DFO closure notice asks all recreational and Indigenous fishers to not fish on the Fraser River from Deadman Creek upstream to Alexandria, the northern border of ?Esdilagh reserve.

The DFO closure stated “these conservation measure are taken in the interest of conserving all species of salmon.”

Another DFO bulletin dated July 7, 2023 states : “For 2023, the objective for Fraser River Spring and summer Chinook is to manage Canadian fisheries in a highly precautionary manner to allow as many fish to pass through to the spawning grounds as possible.”

DFO said in an email they are implementing recreational and commercial fishery management measures to protect a number of stocks of conservation concern.

“Fraser River summer-run Chinook populations are facing declines and significant environmental uncertainty.”

DFO said they are taking measures to give priority access to First Nations food, social and ceremonial, Treaty and rights-based fisheries, many of which have not been able to harvest sufficient numbers in recent years due to low numbers.

DFO said many Chinook populations in southern B.C. are classified as “at risk” and are “being highly impacted by low returns to their spawning grounds, reduced survival in both freshwater and marine lifecycles, fisheries (both directed and bycatch), habitat pressures and a changing climate.”

They noted the lower snowpack in southern B.C. combined with long-range forecasts for the coming months will make for poor conditions for salmon due to heat and drought, combined with El Niño in the Pacific Ocean.

Warmer water temperatures means more salmon will die before they make it all the way back to their spawning beds.

Salmonid species can not tolerate high water temperatures. Climate change, reduced forest cover along streams and input from human activities along the route including industrial and residential wastewater can impact water temperatures along the salmon migration back to spawn.

NSTC did not respond to requests for comment on the closure prior to press time.

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